Embalming has been a part of how we treat the deceased for over 7,000 years. Modern embalming practices using chemicals, however, became popular during the American Civil War. Embalming practices were not only used on soldiers killed in the war, but during that time, travel became more extensive in the United States. Embalming better allowed for those who died while away from home to be preserved while their bodies were sent back. It also allowed more time for families to allow for out of town visitors to attend viewings.
What is embalming and what is its purpose? What are the benefits of embalming and is it necessary?
Embalming is both the art and science of preserving the body and slowing the decomposition process, especially through its early stages. This is done through a surgical process that removes the blood from the body and replaces it with formaldehyde-based chemicals. Once blood has been replaced with chemicals, the body is sutured and considered embalmed.
Families have chosen embalming because slowing decomposition allows for the body to be laid out in an open casket. These “viewings” are extremely popular in the United States for several reasons. The viewings serve as a way for family and friends to gather and share their grief. It also provides closure for loved ones.
If a body were not embalmed, large amounts of bacteria would proceed to decompose the body rather quickly. This would lead to unpleasant odors and disfiguration as the bacteria moved through the organs of the body. It is one of the reasons flowers became popular funerals, to help disguise the odor of a potentially decomposing body.
Unless the deceased was an organ donor or a post-mortem operation was done on the body to determine the cause of death, the organs usually are not removed through the embalming process.
While an unembalmed body may take 7 to 12 years to decompose to skeletal remains, an embalmed body buried in a casket can last for decades.
While natural and organic burials have become more popular in recent years, there are still plenty of reasons to have a loved one embalmed. It slows the clock following a death, allowing for final services to be planned and for families to gather. It allows loved ones to pay their final respects at a viewing. Perhaps most important, it allows for closure that can be beneficial to those grieving. We, of course, are always willing to discuss with you your options.
If you have questions about any aspect of final arrangements, The Fares J. Radel Funeral Home and Crematory family is here to help. We’ve been assisting families in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area through their grief for generations. We would be honored to serve you.